Qatar crisis casts shadow on GCC future

It appears unlikely that the GCC rift would soon be mended.
December 10, 2017
A man walks past the flags of the countries attending the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Kuwait City

London - The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) appears to be passing through its most difficult moment with the dispute between three of its members and Qatar reaching a climax at the Arab body’s annual summit.

The summit of the GCC, which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, was cut to just a few hours instead of the planned two-day event.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bah­rain, backed by Egypt, in June ac­cused Qatar of supporting terror­ism, a charge that Doha denies. Convened December 5 — exactly six months since the dispute began — the summit was attended by only two heads of state: Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al- Sabah, who was hosting the event, and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Also attending were Saudi For­eign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Af­fairs Anwar Gargash, Bahraini Deputy Prime Minister Moham­med bin Mubarak and Omani Dep­uty Prime Minister Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud.

“The leaders’ absence was an ap­parent snub to [the] Qatari ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and to Kuwait’s efforts to mediate an end to the Saudi-led boycott of the gas-rich nation,” wrote Zainab Fattah and Fiona MacDonald for Bloomberg News.

The absence of the sultan of Oman from the meeting was due to his ill health but Muscat appears keen on avoiding being involved in the dispute, which has divided the GCC.

Oman had resisted Saudi pres­sure to reduce ties with Tehran and Qatar, which has been accused by the four boycotting countries of be­ing too cosy with Iran.

Another source of contention is the Qatari Al Jazeera satellite chan­nel, which the Arab quartet accuse of airing extremist views, a charge denied by the broadcaster as well as Doha.

“Al Jazeera, which the quartet de­manded be shut down, openly re­porting from the summit and one of its journalists spoke live to Kuwaiti state radio,” tweeted Gerd Nonne­man, former dean of Georgetown University Qatar.

During the summit, Sheikh Sabah called for the amendment of the GCC charter to facilitate resolving disputes between members. He also vowed to continue Kuwait’s mediation efforts.

“We have been stormed in the past six months with painful and negative developments… but we managed to achieve calm,” Sheikh Sabah said. “Our meeting today is a reason to continue the mediation which fulfils the ambitions of our people.”

It appears unlikely that the GCC rift would soon be mended. A few hours before the commencing of the summit, the UAE announced it was forming a military and eco­nomic committee with Saudi Ara­bia outside the GCC.

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan said in the reso­lution the committee should “co-ordinate between the two countries in all military, political, economic, trade and cultural fields.”

The protocol to establish the coordinating committee was signed in May 2016 by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

“The formal resolution issued today forming a joint cooperation committee between the UAE and Saudi Arabia is no surprise,” Mar­celle Wahba, the president of the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute, told the Abu Dhabi-based the National.

The alliance signals the forma­tion of a shared regional outlook by Saudi Arabia and the UAE — along with Bahrain — that is not shared by the other three GCC members.

The move “threatens to further weaken the Gulf Cooperation Coun­cil, the Arab world’s only function­ing trade bloc,” wrote Simeon Kerr in the Financial Times.

Other analysts saw the new Saudi-UAE alliance as a positive development.

“New dynamics in the relation­ship between Saudi Arabia and the UAE could make hoped for changes in the Middle East more possible and consequential than before,” Hassan Hassan, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in the National. “Such dynamics include near uniform­ity in the way they pursue change, contrary to before when Saudi Ara­bia, for example, tended to be more cautious and less agile.”

Although the GCC, which was es­tablished in 1981, is unlikely to be dismantled soon, its relevance has diminished. Despite pressure from Kuwait, the GCC summit did not even address the Qatar crisis.

The fact that the summit oc­curred, however, was touted as a success.

“The symbolic presence yester­day was a clear message that the summit is the only joint political ac­tion between the boycotting coun­tries and Qatar and may not happen again,” wrote Abdulrahman al- Rashed, the former editor-in-chief of Asharq al-Awsat, in an opinion piece in the newspaper.

“The summit survived despite the boycotting of all ties with Qatar and the GCC avoided a total collapse,” he added. “The Kuwait summit ended quickly, and Sheikh Sabah succeeded in rescuing the GCC from collapsing.”